Israel must capitalize on U20 Euro title with continued hoops growth

Of course, the big question now is where these players go from here, with most currently toiling in Israel’s second division.

July 27, 2018 03:35
4 minute read.
ISRAEL’S VICTORY at the 2018 FIBA European Championship highlighted the explosion of young basketbal

ISRAEL’S VICTORY at the 2018 FIBA European Championship highlighted the explosion of young basketball talent in the country and should serve as motivation to accelerate growth of the sport.. (photo credit: FIBA WEBSITE)

This past week, the Israel Under-20 National Basketball Team won the FIBA European Championship for the first time and blue-and-white pride was on display across the country. This was Israel’s first international basketball title at any age level and the victory gave hope to many that this is just the first of many more to come.

The Under-20 national team, led by tournament MVP Yovel Zoosman and Deni Avdija of Maccabi Tel Aviv along with captain Gil Beni and Michael Brisker of Maccabi Ra’anana, didn’t just win their games, they dominated the opposition like no other Israeli team had done before. Take into account that the field of teams wasn’t made up of the smaller non-basketball nations but the best of the best in Europe, from Greece to Spain and France to Croatia whom Israel defeated in the finals. The blue-and-white won the games against those four teams by an average of over 21 points per contest.

Led by head coach Ariel Beit-Halachmi and his upbeat, positive style of basketball, the squad was able to pressure the ball handler, double team when necessary and just go for it with no fear at all. That’s the way Beit-Halachmi managed this tournament and that’s how he’s always coached his league teams, especially Hapoel Gilboa/Galil, over the past couple of seasons. His style was the exact formula that was called for in this competition and his continuous encouragement from the sidelines pushed the team to this great accomplishment.

Of course, the big question now is where these players go from here, with most currently toiling in Israel’s second division. Will they get a chance to show their worth at the top level, and in the bigger picture what is the future for Israel Basketball at large?

Near the end of the past Israel Basketball Super League season, the Israeli players went on strike and demanded that native blue-and-white players be protected and given an opportunity in a league that features many foreigners, primarily from the United States. The “Russian Rule”, as it is known, requires every team to have at least two Israelis on the floor at all times. Israelis in this case are also naturalized Israelis, those that have made aliya from other countries and are recognized as Sabras by the Interior Ministry.

With the collective bargaining agreement about to expire at the end of the 2017/18 campaign, the word around the league was that the rule would be abolished. After a work stoppage of roughly a week, a new agreement was hammered out which would keep the “Russian Rule” in place for another season. Following that, teams would receive compensation for limiting the amount of foreigners on their squads.

Zoosman, 20, and the 17-year-old Avdija were both named to the Under-20 All-Tournament Team and were members of Maccabi Tel Aviv this past season, but received limited playing time. That, coupled with the fact that the yellow-and-blue plays in the Euroleague which has no player restrictions while the domestic league has the “Russian Rule”, led Maccabi to seriously discuss fielding two separate teams next season, one in each league; the Israeli league team with primarily Israelis and a European squad made up mostly of foreigners.

Although it looks doubtful that the club will go ahead with the plan, it would have served as a fine platform for the up-and-coming stars and those who helped capture the U20 championship.

However, all is not lost. The Israeli league just announced this week that it will propose an initiative together with the Ministry of Culture and Sport to start a reserve league similar to the NBA’s G-League for players between the ages of 18-22 which would allow younger players the ability to develop, gain experience and receive more playing time.

This new league would solve the issue of the missing level of Israeli basketball between the youth leagues and the pros with each BSL team fielding a reserve league team, with players being allowed move freely between the squads. There is no question that this is a forward-thinking idea that would continue to improve the level of young Israeli basketball players and set up a successful future of the sport in Israel for years to come.

Let’s ensure that the Israel Under-20’s achievement will not be a one-off and go to waste. We must build on this amazing feat, one that the championship players will regale to their children and grandchildren for years to come. But more than that, we must also give the next generation of Israeli players the chance to tell their own tale and write their history as well.

Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at

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